As a 1996 graduate of Clark Atlanta University film school, Bryan Barber originally carved a name for himself as one of the most brilliant young directors on the contemporary urban music scene -- with an intuitive, almost preternatural ability to storyboard, choreograph, and shoot hip-hop videos for the group OutKast. Barber's ability to be heard as a clear and distinct authorial voice lay in his gift for defining a unique visual style, a postmodern style that relied heavily on the use of classic film and TV clips. He referenced Grease in the band's video for "Roses," and the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance in the band's video for "Hey Ya!" In the process, Barber emerged as a highly unique talent and imparted a wholly original image to the hip-hop movement.
Barber's ascent to the big screen arrived via his association with OutKast. Charles Roven, the producer of the 2002 effects-laden Scooby-Doo, invited the group and Barber to contribute an original song and video to the movie soundtrack. Michael "Blue" Williams, OutKast's manager, ran a small film production house to produce the group's videos, and Roven's Mosaic Media -- saddled with HBO contract to produce lower-budget "urban" films by up-and-coming directors -- brought Williams, Barber and co. under his wing to make one of the first contracted pictures. Barber responded with the 2006 Idlewild. The film, which stars OutKast's André Benjamin and Big Boi, as well as the legendary Ben Vereen, Ving Rhames, and Cicely Tyson, represents a highly original work -- a hyper-stylized, all-black, period musical set in the Prohibition-era Deep South (in Georgia). In lieu of using a period soundtrack, however, Barber uses hip-hop music to make the era "more immediate" for young, contemporary urban audiences. HBO immediately greenlit the pitch, Universal picked up the distribution rights, and the film was released in August 2006.